Climate change threatens Ghana’s food security
By: Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh
An increased body of evidence shows that climatic variability is adversely affecting Ghana’s natural resources such as land, water, forests and vegetation, as well as human capital.
Climate change is, therefore, expected to have significant impact on key resource-dependant sectors, such as agriculture and food production, and consequently on food security.
Food security is under threat from unpredictable changes in rainfall and more frequent extreme weather.
Recent statistics show that a total of 1.2 million Ghanaians are with limited access to sufficient and nutritious food throughout the year, whiles another 2 million are at risk or becoming food insecure during the lean season or at the onset of a natural or man-made disaster.
These figures constitute between 5 to 10% of the total population, but the majority of people at risk of food insecurity are concentrated in the three northern regions -Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions, according to researchers.
Events such as the severe floods and drought of 2007, coupled with climate change, chieftaincy conflicts, rise in global food and fuel prices have cumulatively heightened the already existing vulnerabilities among people and communities in these regions.
AGRIC, CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOOD SECURITY
Rain-fed farming activities, carried out on small farms, employing around 60% of the workforce in Ghana is what feeds a nation of 24 million.
This form of food production is extremely dependent on the climate, making it susceptible to rain and weather patterns, the availability of land and manpower. Would Ghana still be able to feed its population in the light of its changing climate? Some civil society organizations have queried.
In northern Ghana, the following experiences and observations in relation to a changing climate have been made: erratic rainfall, i.e. unpredictable patterns of rainfall; poor rainfall – both in volumes and distribution; increase incidence of pests and diseases – both on crops and livestock; low crop yields and extinction of some species of animals and plants.
The observed impacts of climate change on food security in northern Ghana include: destruction of lives and property due to floods and droughts (for instance the 2007 disaster that led to the demolition of human and animal housing, the loss of animals, arable land and markets among others); decrease in the amount of physical resources available for agricultural purposes, and mainly due to increase in maintaining cost of destroyed infrastructure (example, for rehabilitation of roads, dams, among others)
Some farmers say erratic rainfalls and shifting weather patterns make the planning of the planting season increasingly difficult. This, coupled with soil fertility loss to floods and expanding deserts, plus depletion of ground water reserves due to prolonged droughts and wide proliferation on crops and livestock pests, can easily lead to drops in food crop yields, putting food security and income generated from food crops, livestock and fisheries in jeopardy.
EFFECTS ON CEREALS AND STAPLES
It has already been projected that high temperatures in Ghana will lead to low cereal yields throughout the country, especially maize and millet, which is a key staple crop in the north.
This fall in cereal crop yield will mainly be due to a reduction in the growing period, and an increase in evaporation rates. Furthermore, roots and tubers such as cassava, yam and cocoyam – which are also key staples in the Ghanaian diet – will see a fall in its production as well.
According to researchers, production of cassava, for instance, is expected to reduce by up to 53% by 2080, and cocoyam by 68%.
The north will be the region most severely affected, as it is the most vulnerable area in Ghana, in terms of agriculture, due to its high level of dependence on agriculture for livelihood and its adverse climate conditions.
Many areas of the southern Ghana which covers 60% of the country enjoy two crops each year whilst the northern Ghana which covers 40% of that country is mostly savannah where the dry season invariably brings food shortages.
As recurring drought has already had adverse impact on food and livestock production in the north, consequently leading to loss of food security, widespread hunger, deepening poverty and migration.
The importance of fish for a nation cannot be underestimated. In 2004, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that fish are an important protein source for some West African countries, comparing nearly two-thirds of daily animal protein intake in Ghana, the Gambia and Sierra Leone.
However, Ghana’s fisheries have experienced gradual decline during the last four decades, mostly due to overfishing and lack of good governance in the fishery sector. The decline of the fishing sector has limited the country’s ability to meet domestic demand and threatened the economic and food security of many Ghanaians.
Ghanaian fishermen produce 70-80% of Ghana’s fish protein requirements and provide jobs for fishmongers, and other traders, hence many livelihoods depend on it.
Currently, 10% of the Ghanaian population is estimated to depend on coastal fisheries for their livelihood, and inland fisheries are equally important factors in determining productivity of fisheries, with changes in climate also having an impact on productivity of coastal and river ecosystems, as well as catchability.
Because fish is a main protein source in Ghana, a dramatic reduction in fish harvesting will affect negatively the nourishment level of the nation, likely to impact women and children the worst.
POTENTIALS OF AGRIC IN COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE
Adapting to climate change is vital in other to remain productive and competitive. Adaptation to climate change for food production activities such as farming, livestock rearing and fishing will require a shift to new and appropriated production methods and techniques, in order to counter the ameliorating effects of adverse climatic conditions on land, water and human capital, which are key inputs in food production.
For example, agricultural adaptation may result on an increase in soil organic matter, through increased use of manure or the adoption of more agro-forestry-based techniques. While increase in the availability of irrigation systems could help combat the effects of prolonged droughts.
Agriculture also offers an important pathway for reducing future emissions and for managing efficiently the Ghana key limited resource, such as water, land and biodiversity. If farmers are supported in introducing modern methods for growing their crops, they can reduce their emissions while growing more to feed themselves and earn extra incomes.
Techniques such as conservation agriculture require less tilling of the land and thus keep more carbon trapped in the soil. Helping farmers access the most up to date knowledge and tools can prevent the need for further clearing of natural habitats for agriculture and keep forests and grasslands in tact as vital carbon sinks.
The Government of Ghana, led by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) has formulated some policies seeking to address the challenges in the agricultural sector.
These are outlined in the Food and Agricultural Sector Development Plan (FASDEP). A poverty social impact assessment of FASDEP I brought about the improved FASDEP II in 2002, which spells out six major policy objectives.
The first and foremost is food security -but none of these dealt specifically with the issue of climate change.
The objective of attaining food security is likely to be hindered because it focuses on production and storage constraints, without addressing climate change conditions that can potentially increase the vulnerability of the poor to unpredictable climate change conditions.
However, the objective on the sustainable management of land and environment advocates for joint planning and implementation of programmes, with relevant institutions to address environmental issues in food and agriculture, hence leaving some policy space to address climate change impacts.
In recognition of the fact that climate related threats such as droughts, pests, diseases and floods may render FASDEP II obsolete, if not addressed adequately, MOFA has submitted FASDEP into a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA).
The SEA was conducted by the Environmental Protection Unit of the EPA of the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MEST). It highlighted the implications of climate change for agricultural in Ghana, and projected that rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall will exacerbate drought and flood conditions as well as bushfires and pests.
If these challenges are not properly addressed and factored in agricultural planning, the sector may not be able to deliver the objective of 6% agricultural growth as set out by the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) that Ghana seeks to achieve.
The outcomes and recommendations of FASDEP II environmental assessment have been incorporated into the national agricultural sector plan and also cost into the national agricultural investment plan.
However, specific strategies targeted at minimising the effects of climate change are still to be developed and implemented. For example, dependence on rainfall is a hindrance to the development of the sector.
Yet, the use of irrigation that can counter the effects of poor rainfall is particularly low across the country – a problem that is only partially addressed in the sector plan.
It is important to adapt local food production in order to manage food security, to address the uncertainties and threats facing the farming communities, as well as explore ways of combating food insecurities cause by climates change in the country.
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